How to cope with those special days whilst grieving

Birthdays, special occasions, recognition days or maybe the date of their passing. 

Whatever the day or date is that’s relevant to you, some more than others may be difficult to cope with. 

Or, it’s one of many where you acknowledge to yourself (or even social media platforms) how much you miss your loved one since they passed and this isn’t the first of these anniversaries. 

It’s ok. 

It’s ok to remember them today. 

It’s ok to mourn. 

It’s ok to celebrate what they meant to you.

Whether you feel it is important to mark your loved one’s passing on a special date, the way you choose to acknowledge or honour the death of your loved one doesn’t have to be the same every year.

After a loved one has passed, there are many events that will evoke memories of them; some are personal and obvious such as a wedding anniversary of a birthday, whilst others are more personal to you such as a particular song, a place or a TV programme. The anniversary of their death may also be a particularly difficult occasion for loved ones.

Coping with Difficult Days

Certain days are more significant than others in as much as they remind us more specifically of the person who died. These can be especially difficult. Sundays often represent family days; anniversaries; holidays such as Christmas and others when the person’s absence is felt. The person’s birthday for example can be a hard day, as you think back on special parties that were held, gifts you gave them … a birthday after someone’s death is usually not a happy one. But it can also be difficult on YOUR birthday, as you realize that they are not there to participate in your celebration.

What can we do about such difficult days? 

Firstly, it is important not to regard them as “set-backs” for as tough as they may be, they are actually an invitation to come to terms with our loss a little more. But when we ask ourselves, as much as I will miss the person, what can I do on that noteworthy day to commemorate their death and celebrate their life. How can I make that day meaningful though difficult? This gives us some measure of control.

So what can we do? May I make several suggestions? Most importantly, I think we need to remember. 

Grief invites us to remember, not to forget. To try to ignore the occasion, or pretend that it is just like any other day is unnatural, and actually increases the tension. It takes more energy to avoid the situation than it does to confront it.

Observe these holidays and special occasions in ways which are comfortable for you.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way of handling these times. Once you have decided how to observe the time and what you can handle comfortably, let family and friends know.

Allow yourself to feel and to express your feelings.
Those special days often magnify feelings of loss. Share your concerns, apprehensions, and feelings with a friend or in a support group. Recognize that the need for support is often greater during holidays. Try to get enough rest, because those occasions can be emotionally and physically draining.

Acknowledge your loved one’s presence in the family.

Unlike a wedding anniversary, commemorating the anniversary of a death can be a sad and painful day, however many people find marking the anniversary of loved one’s death to be a part of the grieving process. While a death anniversary, whenever that might be, can be a painful date, but, there are also ways to fill it with happy memories.

We all deal with grief differently, what works for one person may not work for another. For some people, the day is the same as any other – they may even forget the anniversary altogether. 

Many people find it a day when it’s impossible to escape their loss, often finding the first anniversary, Mothers Day, Fathers Day as just passed us, Christmas Day are all particularly tough. 

Although there is no right or wrong way to honour your loved one’s life, if you’d like to do something on a special day for them, here are ten special things you could do in their memory.

1. Revisit a special place

If you and your loved one had a place you always enjoyed going together, you could visit this place. It could be almost anywhere, a restaurant or coffee shop, a beach or a park. Visiting the special place on their death anniversary is a beautiful way to feel close to them and remember their memories you once shared together in that place.

You could visit the special place alone or with friends and family members, whichever you feel most appropriate.

2. Write a letter, song or poem

We all need an outlet to express our feelings, and writing can be a very therapeutic way of doing this. Writing your loved one a letter may help you feel like you are communicating directly with them, you could update them on your life now, fill them in on what’s happened since you last wrote to them and tell them how much you miss them. If you chose to write a poem or song, this could be about them and the memories you shared together.

You don’t have to be a great writer, and your letter, song or poem doesn’t have to be shared with anyone. You may even want to reminisce over what you have wrote in years to come.

3. Visit their final resting place

One of the most traditional ways to commemorate the day of your loved one’s death is to visit their final resting place and pay your respects. If your loved one was buried, you may want to visit their grave. Many people take flowers and spend a little time at the graveside to reflect.

If your loved one’s ashes were scattered their ashes in a place that was special to them, a trip there could be part of a day spent with other people who loved them, you could even arrange picnic in this location with your loved one’s favourite foods and drink.

4. Light a candle for them

There is a long-standing tradition of lighting a candle in memory of someone, whether in a place of worship, or at home as you quietly contemplate. You may want to discuss lighting a candle at the same time as other friends and family members, in the comfort of your own homes.

As simple as this may seem, don’t overlook the value of such a gesture.

5. Listen to their favourite music or watch their favourite film

Play your loved one’s favourite song or album. If the two of you had a ‘special song’, listen to that as well. You could even request a specific song is played on the radio. 

If music wasn’t their thing, you could watch their favourite film or an episode of their favourite TV programme instead. It may not be to your personal taste, but you might be able to laugh with friends and other family members about it.

6. Support a charity

If your loved one held a particular charity close to their heart, were supported by a charity at some point in their lifetime or were cared for by a hospice before they died, you could remember and honour your loved one by supporting this charity or another charity that offers help to others.

You could even volunteer with a charity that was important to them or sign up to take part in a sponsored event raising funds for a cause that was close to their heart. If you’ve not already, you could donate some of your loved one’s clothing or belongings to charity, just make sure you have agreement from other family members before doing so.

Any of these ideas are a great way of honouring your loved one and putting some positivity back into their world in their name.

7. Create a photo memory book

Ask friends and family to send you copies of photos they have of your loved one, for you to print and create a photo memory book. With photos from lots of different people, you will hopefully have photos that span the different stages in their life.

This could also be a thoughtful gift idea for others that are struggling.

8. Plant a tree

You can plant a tree in honour of you loved one and watch it grow for years. It may become a place of comfort for you, and all future anniversaries. Instead of a tree, you could plant your loved one’s favourite flower in a pot and keep it at home as a way to remember them, plant a rosebush in your garden or even start a vegetable garden.

9. Gather friends and family

Remembering the death of your spouse or partner can make you feel isolated and alone. Rather than spending the day by yourself, you might find it helpful to gather friends and family to honour your loved one.

You could hold a barbeque, meet at a restaurant, host a picnic, or attend an event together and remember and reflect on your loved one. This could be a one-time event or something you do every year on the anniversary of their death.

You could also raise a glass in their honour with friends and family.

10. Plan a quiet day of reflection

It has been a year, but if may feel like it was just a few weeks ago. Your grief may have subdued a little, but your feelings of grief may intensify on their death anniversary and the days surrounding the date.

You may find it helpful to plan a day to reflect, remember, read, journal, exercise or relax; whatever you feel like doing. You may not feel comfortable planning any big activities on this day, despite what other family members may be doing around you. You may also consider arranging to have the day off work if you feel like this will help you.

YOUR Mental well-being is equally important. Monitor your mood over time, as your grief may cross over into depression. The distinction between grief and depression isn’t always clear: both display similar symptoms: loss of appetite, restless sleep, low mood and a loss of purpose. If you’ve been feeling constantly low for a number of weeks or months on end, depression may be the culprit, and you should visit your GP. They will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis, and may refer you to bereavement counselling. Charities like Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care can offer extra support. There is no shame in seeking help for depression. It’s frequently misunderstood but it is a real problem that you shouldn’t just live with.

And for ongoing support, we recommend Cruse Bereavement Care. They offer in-person and over-the-phone support to bereaved people who need support.

Your local Funeral Director may also offer support to bereaved families.

Please dont be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

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